This is What Greenwashing in Fast Fashion Looks Like

Primark’s latest move is a blatant attempt at green PR

Photo of Primark’s new seasonal bag, shared by Paul McConnel on LinkedIn

So, apparently, Primark is releasing this paper bag, which doubles as gift wrap for the Christmas season.

If you have a hard time figuring out why fast fashion, greenwashing, and doing PR for your capitalist business during a global pandemic are problematic, here is a rundown.

The academic definition of the fast fashion industry consists of these four characteristics:

  • Short lifecycles for most products, representing a trend and being marketable for a period of time, which is increasingly short;
  • High volatility for trends, with them being influenced by external forces out with the boundary of the organization’s control;
  • Low predictability in relevance to the volatility, resulting in a decrease in sales forecasting accuracy;
  • A high degree of impulse purchasing, influenced by the consumers’ placement of hedonic value to fashion goods, resulting in an instant need to purchase.

And Primark ticks the box for each one.

Why is fast fashion a problem?

A short product lifecycle leads to high product traffic. Frequent disposal leads to frequent purchases — after all, you don’t want to go undressed and Primark (and companies like it) are always there with something new everything you visit to fuel your addiction.

However, while people often focus on the issues with consumers and capitalism, the aspect of disposal remains unaddressed. And what a big aspect it is.

Initially, the core consumers of fast fashion were people, who could not afford traditional fashion. This has now changed following the rapid growth of the industry, now serving a wide variety of market segments.

Many are becoming aware of the impact the industry has on the environment and are demanding a more sustainable supply chain and higher quality of materials.

The quality of materials is a result of both the physical and mental state of fashion. Clothes perish and have a planned obsolescence of less than a month.

In his book Zara: IT for Fast Fashion, McAfee (et al.) find that produced fast fashion items can be used less than 10 times, prior to disposal.

This is an enormous concern when considered in light of the growing share of fast fashion in fashion retail as there is no current effort made for waste management, nor sustainable sourcing of materials or labor for production.

Most companies have in recent years tried claiming they work with organic cotton, but this in itself is an issue as cotton is a highly water-absorptive plant to grow. Others have started entirely uneventful initiatives for recycling old clothes while giving in-store vouchers to purchase more garbage clothes to those who donate.

A report on the textile economy from 2015 shows:

  • 53 million tons of fiber is used for the production of clothing, 12% of which is lost.
  • 98 million tonnes of oil per year are used to produce synthetic textiles, fertilizers to grow cotton and chemicals to produce, dye, and finish fibres and textiles
  • 43 million tonnes of other non-renewable resources are used in the production process across the value chain
  • 20% of industrial water pollution globally is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles
  • 73% of clothes are landfilled on incinerated

So how does the organic cotton or the clothes drop-off centres help exactly?

The industry is a literal clown world at work.

A lot of mental gymnastics are taking place to justify any of these actions.

And now this.

Primark’s Gift-Wrapping Paper Bag is Here to Save the Day.

Here is a quick recap of greenwashing

when a company or organization spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact.

In what universe, is a gift-wrapping paper bag from a company responsible for a large chunk of the catastrophic effect of this industry on the environment not greenwashing?

But don’t worry — it’s not the first time the company fails in PR.

Beware of the Primark Mob in times of a PR crisis

Online communities have primarily handled Primark’s PR crises, where the company just didn’t bother to give a corporate response over accusations for the ethical treatment of workers.

This in turn gives proponents of the brand an opportunity to defend it online and mitigate the negative effects of bad publicity.

Until a few years back, The Primark Appreciation Society — a customer-started collaboration group with over 100 000 ‘advocates’, handled the company’s official PR, unofficially.

This was considered a marketing strategy achievement, as it showed businesses that the key to conquering social media without any direct investment is through brand tribalism.

The clear positioning of ‘looking good at a low price’ and maintaining a dreadful business model are crucial to the brand having such a dedicated following globally.

Consumption is in part motivated by the feeling of unity and belonging to a social group. With apparel being a high-involvement purchase, linked to identity and carrying social risk, it naturally attracts conversations online. In these conversations, people seek advice, interact, and involve themselves in a community.

A community, built around an unsustainable future.

In 2017, scholars Arriaga et al. suggested that the company can benefit from engaging with its consumers and managing its reputation online, as until recently it relied entirely on electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM). And that is exactly what Primark did.

In recent years, Primark used influencer marketing; then made its customers influencers. They did social, even built an online shop. Just in time for the lockdown, whew.

Thank God, am I right? It’s not a real Christmas without a good Primani shopping!

Wrap a gift with their nasty bag to celebrate buying two hundred dollars worth of junk.

‘We live in a society.’

Companies are mostly held responsible for failing to foster sustainability-friendly behaviors both as an internal policy and as consumer behavior.

But the truth is, both consumers and companies can be criticized for lack of ethical decision making. Companies have been criticized for not encouraging the use of re-purposed clothing as an alternative to purchasing, but why should they when all their customers are pleased with is a bio-degradable paper bag, which can also be used as gift-wrap?

Besides, it has been demonstrated that although most consumers are aware of what is commonly referred to as ‘throwaway culture’, many fail to alter their purchasing habits in any way, remaining driven by an appealing price tag.

And I get it.

Especially now, in these times of economic hardship, Primark may seem like an appealing option, but that is exactly how they get you. That is exactly how you become a part of the money-making, environment-destroying fast fashion industrial complex.

But trust me, Primark doesn’t care.

Marketing Storyteller • Data Science, NLP, and Automation Geek • SEO Consultant • Full-time Servant of Two Cats

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store